From Publishers Weekly
Harvard psychologist Weissbourd (The Vulnerable Child
) delivers a direct, digestible wakeup call about the need for better moral instruction for children. Enlisting a battery of researchers to conduct interviews with students, teachers and parents mostly in the Boston area and the South, Weissbourd asserts quite forcefully and repetitively that by abdicating moral authority to popular culture and children's peers, by shielding children from their destructive behavior, by letting fathers off the hook and by insisting on children's happiness rather than their goodness, adults are failing their own children. Weissbourd looks at the role of shame in engendering children's destructive acts, and how it can result from parents' excessive expectations and fears of their children's emotions. Promoting an elusive notion of happiness sacrifices important lessons in empathy, appreciation and caring, while parents' self-interest continually erodes the basis for community. The author advocates checking parents' overweening drive for achievement in our children, refraining from wanting to be their best friend and cultivating a healthy idealism. He cites a woeful lack of self-awareness by parents and the need for building alliances with teachers and other parents. His chapter on the morally mature sports parent is a sober reminder of why we want our children to play sports. Moral strengths and failures among different cultures are particularly explored in this strongly worded work that barely grazes the tip of the iceberg. (Mar.)
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In this ardent and persuasive inquiry, Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist, warns that “happiness-besotted” parents do children a disservice by emphasizing personal fulfillment over empathy. (A high-school English teacher laments the difficulty of teaching “King Lear” to students who “can’t engage suffering in any way.”) Parents worry about their children’s confidence, but constant, preëmptive praise can turn kids into cynics; studies show that playground bullies (and, later in life, criminals) exhibit high self-esteem. Drawing on extensive field research, Weissbourd makes the case that parents, as models of behavior, must be vigilant about their own moral choices. If we’re afraid to risk our kids’ ire by criticizing them, how can we expect them to resist peer pressure? Of special concern are parents who try too hard to be their kids’ friends. Weissbourd explains, “Children have no incentive to become like us, because the message we’re giving is that they already are.”
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